BAMAKO, Mali

Rebel groups to join forces, create independent state

The two rebel groups that seized control of the northern half of Mali announced Saturday that they have agreed to work together to create an independent Islamic state on the territory they occupy, a signatory to the agreement said.

Alghabass Ag Intalla, a leader of Ansar Dine, which is fighting to create an Islamic state, confirmed that his movement was joining with the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, a secular rebel group led by Tuareg separatists.

They signed the agreement in the northern town of Gao on Saturday evening, and celebratory gunfire rang out in both Gao and Timbuktu, another town under their control, as fighters heard the news.

“I have just signed an accord that will see an independent and Islamic state where we have Islamic law,” Ag Intalla said.

Ansar Dine is known to have ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the al-Qaida affiliate in Africa, which is responsible for  suicide attacks as well as the kidnappings of foreigners, some of whom were later executed.

The two groups took over the north of Mali, an area the size of France, at the end of March, forcing Malian government troops to flee south. Until now, the two had been in disagreement because Ansar Dine wants to impose Shariah law in the area they occupy, something the secular NMLA had been resisting.

VATICAN CITY

Pope’s butler arrested, held in Vatican leaks scandal

The Vatican confirmed Saturday that the pope’s butler has been arrested in its embarrassing leaks scandal, adding a Hollywood twist to a tale of power struggles, intrigue and corruption at the highest levels of Catholic Church governance.

Paolo Gabriele, a layman and member of the papal household, was continuing to be held Saturday following his arrest Wednesday after secret documents were found in his Vatican City apartment, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said in a statement.

Gabriele is often seen by Pope Benedict XVI’s side in public, riding in the front seat of his open-air jeep during Wednesday general audiences or shielding the pope from the rain. 

Gabriele’s arrest followed another stunning development at the Vatican last week: the ouster of the president of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, by his board. Sources close to the investigation said Tedeschi, too, was found to have leaked documents, though the official reason for his ouster was that he simply failed to do his job.

Vatican documents leaked to the press in recent months have  alleged corruption in Vatican finance as well as internal bickering over the Holy See’s efforts to show more transparency in its financial operations.

MIAMI

Tropical storm warnings in effect as Beryl strengthens

A cluster of thunderstorms that stalled off the southeastern U.S. coast Saturday is expected to make for a sloppy, rainy Memorial Day on beaches and in tourist towns from Florida to South Carolina.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the entire Georgia coastline, as well as parts of Florida and South Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Beryl was technically still considered a “subtropical storm,” but the system is expected to bring winds and rain to the area regardless of its official classification.

Tropical storm conditions – meaning maximum sustained winds of 45 mph – were expected to reach the coast as early as Saturday night. Three to 6 inches of rain are forecast for the area. Some coastal flooding is forecast, as the rain could cause high tides.